DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/26 February) – Police dispersed on Tuesday afternoon victims of typhoon Pablo who had barricaded the regional office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development since Monday night and tried to take relief goods from the agency that they said should be given to them.
The commotion erupted 11:00 a.m. Tuesday after the protesters destroyed the gates of the DSWD compound and took relief goods.
The barricaders were members of Barug Katawhan, a group of typhoon Pablo victims from Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley (ComVal).
At least nine individuals claimed they were injured when the policemen tried to disperse and prevent them from taking the relief items.
Jesaley Nakila, 11, of Mabini town in ComVal said she was hit by a truncheon on her back outside the gate while others were taking out the relief goods.
Iwan Solin-ay, 30, was hit with a steel stick on his right leg. Ronilo Bagsi, 27, was hit with a truncheon on his forehead and right leg. Both were from Barangay Mangayon in Compostela town, ComVal.
Jason Ello, 18, of Barangay Ngan in Compostela town alleged a truncheon hit his right knee.
Two policemen reportedly grabbed Manuel Tanaid, 44, also of Ngan by the shirt. But when one of the policemen tried to hit him, his wife, Marefin, was hit instead on the back.
Rene Antonio, 28, from Compostela town, was hit on his right leg inside the compound. On his way outside, another policeman hit him on his right butt.
Jorem Masaring, 38, of Barangay Pasian in Monkayo town, ComVal, was hit with a shield that caused a cut on his left brow. He was further hit with a truncheon that bruised his right knee.
Mariel May Moralde, 18, a member of Anakbayan Davao City chapter was detained for a few minutes by a policeman inside the DSWD compound for allegedly leading the crowd that destroyed the gate.
The DSWD-11 office was empty as the victims, who were demanding for additional 10,000 sacks of rice without any condition, prevented the employees from entering it.
Before the commotion, several policemen had surrounded the protesters who occupied the entire Suazo Street corner R. Magsaysay Avenue, and placed patrol cars and a fire truck near them.
By 5:00 p.m., former Bayan Muna congressman Joel Virador and lawyer Carlos Isagani Zarate asked city police chief, Senior Supt. Ronald Dela Rosa to give them an hour to call DSWD Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman before proceeding with the dispersal.
Dela Rosa agreed but after about five minutes he ordered the goods loaded into patrol cars and two dump trucks of the city government. He warned protesters that those who resisted would be arrested.
Dela Rosa said Mayor Sara Duterte told him the goods were meant for the city.
Soliman earlier said the same goods were for distribution to the victims of “Crising” in Davao del Norte.
At 6:25 p.m., the police and military had finished loading the goods.
Supporters of Barug held a mass at the site while the police and Task Force Davao continued to guard the vicinity.
Barug said they will continue camping outside the DSWD office until their demands are met.
Sheena Suazo, secretary general of Bayan-Southern Mindanao said they have provided a partial list of recipients.
But DSWD acting regional director Priscilla Razon told her over the phone that the agency will have to verify the names with the local government units.
The barricaders took 593 boxes of noodles, 13 boxes of soap, 34 boxes of canned sardines, 10 boxes of envelopes, a box of biscuits, 78 boxes of coffee, 52 sacks of rice and 820 sacks of assorted goods.
A sack of assorted goods contains eight family packs, according to Carmela Duron, DSWD-11 information officer
She said the relief goods taken by Barug members were intended for the victims of tropical depression Crising as those for Pablo victims were at the DSWD depot in Sasa here.
Soliman on Tuesday stood pat on her position that there will be no release of 10,000 sacks of rice as demanded by Barug Katawhan unless the group provided the distribution list containing the names and addresses of the recipients.
Barug spokesperson Karlos Trangia called their move an organized “confiscation” of the relief goods intended for Pablo victims. He said it was not looting as the goods were intended for Pablo victims but which the DSWD refused to release.
Dela Rosa maintained the Barug members committed looting, a criminal offense, unless they could prove ownership of the goods.
He added it was just incidental that some of the typhoon victims, including children, were hit during the dispersal.
He warned they would arrest all protesters who would bring the relief goods outside the vicinity, which was surrounded by policemen and Task Force Davao.
The protesters reported that Jolito Boyser, 28, from Nabunturan town, ComVal was arrested and detained at the Sta. Ana Police station.
Dela Rosa said Boyser was caught bringing relief goods out of the barricade.
Trangia said the gathered goods would have been distributed later to Pablo victims with the police and DSWD personnel as witnesses. He said they should see for themselves that the relief goods will reach those who really needed them.
Bishop Modesto Villasanta, convener of the Sowing the Seeds for Peace, said in an interview that what happened was not a police issue but a social work issue.
He said the DSWD should “bend down as a servant of the people”, like Jesus Christ who knelt before the Apostles and washed their feet as a sign of “servanthood”.
For their part, the Mindanao Coalition of Development NGO Networks (MinCODE) condemned “the manner by which some groups express their sentiments against the government. As the largest coalition of Mindanao-based civil society organizations, we uphold the principle of constructive engagement with the government. We strongly call for respecting legal processes and non-disruption of public service.”
In a statement Tuesday, MinCODE said “there is no need to go to the extent of blocking the [DSWD] Regional Office and hampering the delivery of public service.” (Lorie Ann Cascaro/MindaNews)